Rogue One offers a subtle strength and quiet intensity that’s truly all its own — and then the film’s final battle launches this installment to astronomically new heights (NO SPOILERS, I promise).
Compared with the hype-filled months leading up to last year’s The Force Awakens, the lead-up to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this year has felt infinitely more tame.
To be honest, I almost forgot to buy advance tickets for opening night because the movie’s release just wasn’t top-of-mind. Maybe it’s due to a lack of familiar faces in the cast (although the trailers have teased some unlikely ones, which the movie certainly delivers), or the fact that this film seems like a non-sequitur in a well-established story.
Whatever the reason, people just aren’t talking about Rogue One so much as debating whether or not to even see the film in theaters. And that’s a damn shame.
Featuring quietly intense performances in a series of spine-tingling/visually stunning/adrenaline-filled battle sequences, Rogue One transcends its often grim tone and seemingly hopeless circumstances to battle for a top spot in Star Wars canon.
Put simply, this movie quietly and methodically builds its foundation before it takes off running at full tilt. Admittedly, there are times when choppy story development threatens to lose some viewers—for example, after the film’s opening sequence, we visit upwards of 5 different planets within the first 45 minutes of the film.
In Rogue One‘s case, the brisk pace of the plot sadly doesn’t allow any room for a creative breath, which is a shame with a cast of characters whom you absolutely want to remember. Yet, many action-packed adventure movies suffer from the same initial storytelling issues before being strongly redeemed by a deeply satisfying payoff. Director Gareth Edwards gives us one of the coolest battle sequences put to film in recent years. And once the action begins, it doesn’t stop for a minute until the end credits roll, leaving viewers absolutely breathless (and craving a hit of whatever Forest Whitaker was inhaling from his robot mask).
A few things to expect:
Epic, brutal battle scenes
Air battles. Beach battles. Shoot-outs. Surprise battles. Explosions… ‘Nuff said, guys. My palms were sweating profusely through the entire final sequence. This stuff is the real deal.
Special effects that reach beyond time
As expected, this film is visually stunning. And we’re not just talking about sweeping landscapes or fantastical space creatures… I’ll leave it at that.
A different side of the Force
Unlike every other Star Wars film to date, this story featured no Jedi warriors, no mystical Force magic to save the day (with the exception of some mind-blowing Darth Vader action). No, the characters in Rogue One are average, everyday people with average, everyday skills. Instead of elegant lightsabers, they have blasters. They are soldiers and rebels willing to give their lives for their cause, and it honestly makes every action sequence a little more compelling to watch.
Yet although no one can use the Force as a tangible tool in battle, it is there nonetheless. That’s largely thanks to Chirrut Îmwe (played with so much heart by Donnie Yen), a blind man devoted to the Force as more of a religion than a practice. As Sean Hutchinson puts it: “Just because he can’t make things levitate with his mind or pull a Jedi mind trick doesn’t mean that the energy that binds the galaxy together can’t help him out. Think of him as more Jedi Lite than Jedi Knight.”
Comic relief in the form of a particularly sharp-tongued Imperial security droid, of all things
I identify more with K-2SO than I’ve ever identified with any movie character ever. His sardonic personality seriously made me doubt my undying love for R2-D2 for a hot second. Probably because Alan Tudyk will never not be adorably awesome in everything he does.
A darker tone than any previous installments
While other Star Wars films emanate a generally bright, cheerful energy, Rogue One has a much grittier, darker feel that reflects the bleak reality of a world in turmoil. It serves to remind viewers that this galaxy far, far away is in the midst of all-out war, which means desperation, fear, and rampant death—on a deeply personal level. (Note: I’m not talking Gladiator-style here, but this film certainly does a much better job at showing the sacrifice and atrocity of war when compared to its predecessors).
This grim tone also extends to the film’s two main characters, Jyn and Cassian. I’ve heard a bit of criticism so far about these two feeling stiff and two-dimensional. In my opinion, they may not be as jovial or as comedic as most of their main character predecessors before them, but isn’t that kind of fitting? Instead, these characters burn with a silent intensity. They are literally the last hope of the rebellion, the last dying flickers of a candle about to be snuffed out; it’s understandable that they don’t necessarily have the spunk or kid-friendly light surrounding them.
As Matt Zoller Seitz points out in his review:
That so many characters have been pushed to the margins of galactic life or banished themselves there after a soul-crushing disappointment gives their decisions a grave, poignant quality that’s lacking in other “Star Wars” movies, even the good ones… this is the first entry in the saga that convinces us that its characters live in an actual civilization, with rules and traditions and a sense of history (and a religion) that they measure themselves against.
In short, Rogue One was really freaking fun. It perfectly connects the prequels to the original trilogy and (in my opinion) strengthens A New Hope without getting in its way. You’ll understand, in stark clarity, what kind of effort and sacrifice it really took to destroy the Death Star. It’s a little choppy at first, but stick with it. Trust me: the payoff is fantastic. Just give it a chance.
If you do, you’ll likely come away with an understanding that most heroes aren’t just magical, mystical and “lucky”; rather, they are forged in raw determination.